Frances Perkins (1880 - 1965)
Frances Perkins was secretary of labor for the 12 years of Franklin D. Roosevelt's presidency and the first woman to hold a Cabinet post. She brought to her office a deep commitment to improving the lives of workers and creating a legitimate role for labor unions in American society, succeeding admirably on both counts. Always a consummate politician, Perkins profoundly influenced the political agenda of her day, moving it closer to the values she embraced: economic justice and security for all Americans.
Born in Boston in 1880, Perkins grew up in a comfortable middle-class Republican family descended from a long line of Maine farmers and craftsmen. When Perkins was two, the family moved to Worcester, Mass., where her father opened a profitable stationery business. Her parents were devoted Congregationalists and instilled in Perkins an earnest desire to "live for God and do something." At Mount Holyoke College, she began to understand just what that meant. Perkins majored in the natural sciences, but she studied economic history, read How the Other Half Lives, Jacob Riis' expose of the New York slums, and attended lectures by labor and social reformers such as Florence Kelley, general secretary of the National Consumer's League.
Friday, February 11, 2011
Posted by David Ballela at 1:38 PM
Wednesday, February 9, 2011
an excerpt from her address
Albany, NY (March 23, 2010) - State Labor Commissioner Colleen Gardner today joined state legislative and union leaders to commemorate the 99th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Company fire, which led to the tragic death of 146 garment workers. At a ceremony at the Empire State Plaza, Commissioner Gardner acknowledged the importance of the fire, which significantly changed worker protection laws.
On March 25, 1911, fire swept through the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, trapping workers on the top three floors of a 10-story building, where exits were locked and fire escapes were defective. The tremendous public outcry that followed the tragedy led New York State to enact many of the first significant worker protection laws in the nation.
Commissioner Gardner said, "We are here to see that this tragedy never happens again. By enforcing the State's Labor Laws, the Department of Labor ensures safe working conditions for all New Yorkers. New York enacted many of the first significant worker protection laws in the nation. We continue to lead in protecting the health and safety of employees in the workplace. We honor the women who died at the Triangle Fire and stay true to our fight for workers' rights and workplace safety."
family photos with permission of the Zito family
all rights reserved
Tuesday, February 8, 2011
recorded live at the Rockpalast/Crossroads Festival at the Harmonie in Bonn, Germany on October 20, 2007
(taken from the DVD Town To Town, Sun To Sun)
In Nineteen Hundred-Nine, from Donegal's shore
I sailed to old New York town
In the harbor Lady Liberty stands
I don't believe I'll again see Dear Ould Ireland
But the promise in these city streets is so grand
And it's there I'd wed my dear, sweet lass
A bricklayer's spade, my trade to be
And she slaved at the Triangle Shirt Factory
My God! - the dreadful conditions there
They toiled through dim light and stifling air
And gruelling hours the seamstress gave
To the industrial captains for a trifling wage
Though two years passed, we saw no change
And I grieved for my love's dark misery
Then word ran through the New York streets
There's a fire at the Triangle Shirt Factory
Twas only moments and the factory surrendered to flame
And the fire escapes soon gave way
In the windows huddled girls appeared
Flames licked at their backs, their faces gripped with fear
My God! - don't jump! came the firemen's roar
Whose ladders failed to reach the top floors
A last, shared glance and final embrace
They leaped to their tragic and senseless fate
Now I scream at the sky
There's got to be a reason why
Bewildered and grieved, I'm tangled and mired
My love is gone - oh the Triangle Fire
The world is so cold, desperate and dire
I've lost everything in the Triangle Fire
There was no reason, there was no rhyme, and now law
To save us from this crime at all
The owner's trial did reveal
That the girls were locked in - the doors had all been sealed
My God! - they've gone free! came our hopeless cry
The bossed won with their lawyers and lies
The Power and Greed again prevailed
And we were left to our sorrow, to our despair
I fear the future, I can envision the time
When our cityscape will touch the sky
Will men of Faith, of Wealth and Power
Spare their people a fate like the Triangle Fire?
My God! - forgive me! these men will cry
In Their final hour as they lay dying
And their victim's ghosts close in around
God alone may forgive their indifference now
Sunday, February 6, 2011
and an extended piece from counterpunch By DANIEL GROSS
When many people think of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, it's the fashionable boutiques, music scene, and hip bars that come to mind. But for thousands of recent immigrants, the eastern section of Williamsburg is where you go to find work in food processing and distribution factories that service many of New York City's markets and restaurants. If you've ever eaten a meal in New York, you can be assured that you've consumed food that has been produced and distributed through one of these food companies and those in a few adjacent neighborhoods.
Hundreds of small and mid-sized food warehouses line an industrial corridor starting in East Williamsburg and Bushwick, and extending into the Ridgewood and Maspeth neighborhoods of Queens. Rice, seafood, hummus, soda, onions, tortillas, you name it; massive quantities of those products and everything in between is produced or packed in these factories and then delivered in bulk to restaurants and grocery stores before they end up on our plates. Though not widely-known, this in-between section of the food supply chain plays an absolutely critical role in getting us the food we all need to survive and thrive.
Despite the indispensable role they play, the workers at these food businesses, largely recent immigrants from Latin America and China, constitute an invisible workforce. Out of sight from the consuming public, employers in this industrial corridor often maintain what can be fairly characterized as sweatshop conditions. Wage theft, reckless disregard for the safety of workers, grueling shifts through the night, and abusive management are all common hardships facing workers in the sector. The work is heavy and exhausting, yet workers typically earn poverty wages and almost no one receives any health or retirement benefits.
It was in this industrial zone of food sweatshops that Juan Baten, the 22-year old father of a seven-month old daughter and a devoted husband, tragically lost his life. Mr. Baten, who lived in Brooklyn and was originally from Guatemala, worked at a tortilla factory called Tortilleria Chinantla in East Williamsburg. Last week, Mr. Baten was crushed and killed in a dough mixing machine. Mr. Baten's workplace did not have a union and had never been inspected by OSHA, the federal workplace safety authority.
While it's too early to draw definitive conclusions, troubling facts have emerged indicating that the Chinantla tortilla factory is not unlike many of the other food processing facilities in the Brooklyn-Queens industrial corridor. According to a report in El Diario, Mr. Baten worked incredibly long, twelve hour shifts, from six at night until six the next morning, six days a week. Regardless of what is uncovered in pending investigations, the length of those shifts alone, working through the night on dangerous equipment and with only one day off per week, should be enough to raise alarms. (The factory is currently closed by an order from the New York State Workers Compensation Board because of owner Erasmo Ponce's criminal failure to pay for workers compensation coverage, the very coverage mandated to provide some financial protection to injured workers or to families of workers, like Juan Baten's, in the event of workplace fatality.)
Many questions about Chinantla and Juan Baten's death remain unanswered. What safety procedures and training did management have in place, if any? Was the factory sufficiently staffed so workers could meet demand at a safe speed? Was the equipment properly maintained?
Still, based on what is already known, I have no doubt that Juan Baten's death could have been prevented. He should be with us today, working towards his dream of saving enough money to return to Guatemala with his wife and daughter. Instead, his family is left navigating a profoundly uncertain future with a deep wound in their hearts.
Sadly, it often takes a tragedy to open our eyes to issues normally kept safely out of sight and out of mind. Again, the conditions which likely contributed to Mr. Baten being killed are anything but uncommon. Indeed, they are typical of the food factories in the Brooklyn-Queens industrial corridor whose business models center on exploiting recent immigrant workers. The tragedy of Mr. Baten's death will only be compounded if we treat it as an isolated case rather than a wake-up call to the systemic hardships facing workers along the food chain, mostly workers of color and immigrants.
The workers who work so hard to bring us the food we depend on to survive, often in unsafe conditions and through the night, need your support. Through workplace organizing, grassroots protests, and legal actions, a campaign called Focus on the Food Chain is helping a growing number of immigrant food workers in the Brooklyn-Queens corridor win improved working conditions and increased employer compliance with the law. But these fights always trigger fierce retaliation from employers and require robust worker and community support to win. To lend a hand through solidarity actions, financial support, or to share any other ideas you might have, please connect with the Focus campaign at http://tinyurl.com/focusonthefoodchain or email@example.com
Together we can honor the life of Juan Baten, avoid more senseless loss of life, and ensure that this workforce never becomes invisible again.
Daniel Gross is an attorney and executive director of Brandworkers International, a non-profit organization protecting and advancing the rights of retail and food employees. Focus on the Food Chain is a joint campaign of Brandworkers and the NYC Industrial Workers of the World labor union.
Saturday, February 5, 2011
a chapter from an excellent young adult book on the shirtwaist workers by Joan Dash, entitled, "We Shall Not Be Moved." I added the graphic on the last page.
Wednesday, February 2, 2011
Tuesday, February 1, 2011
Herbert Hill (January 24, 1924 – August 15, 2004) was the labor director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People for decades and was a frequent contributor to New Politics (magazine) as well as the author of several books. He was later Evjue-Bascom Professor of Afro-American Studies and Industrial Relations at the University of Wisconsin–Madison and eventually emeritus professor. He played a significant role in the civil rights movement in pressuring labor unions to desegregate and to seriously implement measures that would integrate African Americans in the labor market. He was also famous for his belief that American trade unions had downplayed the history of racism that tarred their reputations, before and after the Jim Crow era.
Hill earned a B.A. from New York University in 1945 and attended the New School for Social Research from 1946 until 1948 where he studied under the distinguished political theorist, Hannah Arendt. During the 1940s, Hill was a member of the Socialist Workers Party. Hill (although white) was appointed Labor Director of the NAACP in 1951 where he worked until 1977 when he departed for a professorship at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. He was highly critical of the practice of nepotism in many unions whereby relatives of members were hired. Hill criticized labour relations practises in numerous industries including the film industry as well as the progress of the Kennedy Administration on issues of racial equality in the workplace. Among the many unions he criticized for their record on racial equality were the International Ladies Garment Workers Union, the United Auto Workers, the United Federation of Teachers and the United Steelworkers of America as well as the AFL-CIO federation itself. Hill particularly objected to the AFL-CIO position that Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act should not interfere with existing seniority systems. He was also a strong supporter of affirmative action. According to a New Politics article by Stephen Steinberg, Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall once described Hill as "the best barbershop lawyer in the United States".
He also organized pickets to raise awareness of racial discrimination in the construction industry. His conduct was so controversial that some unions threatened to withhold funding of the NAACP unless Hill was fired, but the NAACP leadership under Roy Wilkins supported Hill. Hill published over one hundred articles in journals, anthologies and newspapers and was also known for debates with labor historian Herbert Gutman as well as debates in New Politics (magazine) with union leader Al Shanker and Nelson Lichtenstein, an academic and biographer of Walter Reuther. Hill was especially sharp against Lichtenstein's support for the allegedly racist Reuther and the UAW's activities to betray the civil rights movement. He also served as a consultant for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the United Nations.
One of the most important campaigns led by Hill was his campaign against the discriminatory practices of the ILGWU. Despite the fact that the ILGWU had cooperated with the NAACP with respect to desegregation of union locals in the South, as late as the early 1960s, there were still no African-American nor Puerto Rican officers or executive board members in the ILGWU in its New York City base. The ILGWU was of particular importance because of its major role in the Liberal Party of New York. Hill played a key role in taking on a complaint against Local 10 of the ILGWU of an African American cutter, Ernest Holmes, who had been repeatedly prevented from joining the cutters' union, thereby receiving lower wages and denied the health and welfare benefits associated with union membership. Hill alleged that the ILGWU restricted African American and Puerto Rican workers to low paying jobs. In 1962, the New York State Commission for Human Rights found that Local 10 had violated the state antidiscrimination law. The ILGWU launched a public relations campaign alleging partisanship on the part of the Republican appointed Commission in response and did little to solve the problem. Writing in New Politics (magazine), a leading ILGWU official, Gus Tyler, attempted to show that there were African Americans and Puerto Ricans in the union. Adam Clayton Powell Jr. held Congressional hearings in the House Committee on Education and Labor on the ILGWU practices in 1962. Hill testified at the hearings, criticizing David Dubinsky for his governance of the ILGWU. Even though Hill was Jewish, allegations of anti-semitism were made with respect to the NAACP critique of the ILGWU. Changes to the ILGWU only came about slowly, especially after the retirement of Dubinsky in 1966.